Three Years After Golden Ray Wreck, Fishing Community Sues for Cleanup

Golden Ray lawsuit by fishing community
The final cuts on the Golden Ray wreck were made a year ago but they content the sound remains polluted (August 2021 - St. Simons Sound Incident Response photo)

Published Sep 9, 2022 7:43 PM by The Maritime Executive

Three years after car carrier Golden Ray wrecked in Georgia’s St. Simons Sound and a year after the salvage operation was completed the legacy of the wreck continues to hang over the Georgia community. On Wednesday, one day shy of the third anniversary of the wreck heeling over in the sound and triggering the massive salvage operation a new lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Georgia echoing issues raised by the local government in a similar suit filed in March 2022.

Lawyers representing commercial fishermen, including shrimpers and crabbers as well as other commercial charter boat operators, contend the area’s waters remain heavily polluted undermining their clients’ livelihood. The suit claims that the oil and other residues that leached from the wreck continue to degrade the water quality. They cite the initial leaks as well as subsequent discharges during the salvage operation as well as the fires and other problems during the removal and remediation efforts.

The suit names a wide range of defendants including the owner of the vessel, Hyundai Glovis as the charter, the local agents, and the crewing company for the vessel, as well as the salvage contractors. The suit alleges negligence both in the operation of the Golden Ray and the cleanup after the wreck. 

They allege a year after the last cut was completed on the hulk of the Golden Ray and the pieces were removed from the sound that the seabed remains covered with car parts both from cars that fell into the water and from parts that washed out of the hulk. The suit cites the numerous pieces removed from the beach while saying many more continue to litter the waterways.

Speaking to the Brunswick News, local shrimp fisherman Johnny Ray Bennett said the one thing he is catching these days is car parts. “Oh, yeah, we’re catching all that junk – bumpers, radiator hoses, tires. It’s everywhere you look, but we ain’t catching the shrimp like we used to,” Bennett told the newspaper.

The lawsuit asks the court to order additional remediation of St. Simons Sound and the surrounding waterways. They are also seeking civil penalties and financial compensation for their lost business over the past three years.

Many of the issues in the new suit mirror similar allegations in a suit filed six months ago in the same federal court by the county where the wreck occurred. The Georgia county also filed suit alleging negligence both against the ship’s owners and operators as well as the salvage company for environmental damage and lost tax revenues.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division separately in November 2021 proposed a $3 million fine for the Golden Ray’s operator citing pollutants, petroleum products, and other debris that were discharged into the sound. At the time, the Georgia state authority gave Hyundai one year to pay the fine or propose a supplemental environmental project in return for a reduced fine.

To date, estimates are that more than $800 million has been spent on the removal of the wreck and remediation of the sound. That makes it the costliest shipwreck in U.S. history.